According to a new report from Statistics Iceland, about one fourth of Icelandic children were involved with the job market last year. This amounts to 20,000 children all over the country, including 700 kids under the age of 12 and 37 children under the age of 5.
In a country of Stakhanovites obsessed with the idea of working hard, it’s common for teenagers in Iceland to begin working by the age of fourteen during summer holidays, often earning money for personal expenses (food, candy, travels) in ice-creams shops, burger joints and fish factories, by the registers at Bónus and even cleaning parks and streets for local municipalities. Children learn how to save money and gain independence when it comes to their finances.
“We’ve always had this work culture in Iceland and I think my generation and older people see it as a good thing that we’ve started working early, while we were in school or during summer holidays, and that we’ve learnt a lot from it,” says Salvör Nordal, Ombudsman for Children told RÚV.
“Of course it’s true that children can learn a lot from working but we’re now taking it too far, where young children are often taking on projects they can’t cope well with or where conditions are not exactly children-friendly,” she added.
Working conditions, however, are not the only issue. It seems in fact that while Icelandic culture expects fourteen years old kids to involve themselves in remunerated activities, Icelandic children are beginning to enter the job market earlier than expected. According to the data provided by Statistics Iceland, 700 kids under the age of 12 were registered employees in 2017, while 37 children under the age of 5 were on payroll that same year.
It’s worth noting that kids under the age of 13 are allowed to take part in cultural and art projects (for instance in movies and theatre) as well as paid advertising activities with special permission from the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health in Iceland.
“There are obviously rules stating that young people can’t work in difficult jobs but parents also need to pay attention, for instance making sure that the children are not working too much and that the job doesn’t interfere with rest and free-time,” Salvör adds, explaining that the situation regarding working children in Iceland is often different than in other neighbouring countries.